Start of second day in Vietnam. I caught a taxi back into Da Nang to the Motorcycle Shop. I had rented a Honda CRF250L for 10 days to explore the country. The bike was not exactly in great condition, but a step up from many I have rented in the past. In their defense, in this environment, with rain and humidity, it is hard to keep anything looking in great shape. The guys were kind enough to wire my phone charger to the battery and once I added the phone mount and Airtag I was ready to go.
The plan for the day was just a basic loop heading West out into the country and back to make sure the bike functioned properly, and if not I could get the shop to adjust before heading north tomorrow.
I brought some basic tools on this trip. I had not needed them in the past, but I am figuring my luck in that department is due to run out. I had my KLIM heavy-duty riding jacket and pants, along with boots and a decent Helmet from the US. The helmets they sell over here are made from plastic with pieces of a Styrofoam fishing cooler glued inside. In addition I brought stuff for minor repairs. Tire inflation kit, jump starter, multitools and SLIME to seal tube punctures. Dammit I forgot the SLIME! That sucks as I had no way to change a tire if it went flat out in the jungle. My plan was to just inject some SLIME into the tube, hope it seals and then reinflate. Now I was going to be paranoid about getting a flat the whole trip. The shop did provide me extra tubes, but I would still need to find a place to get them changed out for me.
I also realized that the phone power I wired to the battery to allow me to follow directions while riding required me to turn it off when I turned off the bike each time, or the battery would be depleted in about 5 minutes. Another, equally important item to have in the back of my mind at all times.
The test ride was short but effective. The bike felt comfortable and no red flags when getting up to speed or bouncing around off-road. With that, I headed back to Hoi An. Much to the disappointment of the Hoi An Central hotel staff, I decided to lock the bike up right in front of the hotel
I was taking advantage of the Asian culture’s inability to say no to a request. I waited until I had locked it up and walked into the lobby to ask if that location was ok for the night. I repeated the walk around town that evening.
I stopped at Miss Ly restaurant for local specialty of Cao Lau. I did not take a picture but basically a bowl of Udon-style noodles with pita chips, greens and a sweet sauce. Quite good.
I continued walking for a bit more
Below was an ensamble I saw on lots of tourists
Not sure why it was popular, but it reminded me of “elephant pants” in Thailand. I am sure one shop sold it, a few western tourists bought as a joke, then other shops sold it and it became a phenomenon.
After a few more blocks, I peeled off and headed for home. Tomorrow was the start of an epic adventure and I did not need to bring a hangover along for the ride
I had an early breakfast and was packed and on the road by 8am. The plan was to spend about 6 hours following the coast north until I got to the old capital city of Hue.
It was raining by the time I pulled into the city of Da Nang and I found an overhang at a grocery store to park under until the heaviest part of the storm passed through
Here is a map of my route for the day.
You can see a peninsula that sticks out East of Da Nang. I rode out towards it and made my first stop at the Lady Buddha. I was immediately mobbed by high school kids looking to practice their English
I kept looking over my shoulder, thinking this attention was a distraction meant to allow their friends to pick my motorcycle clean, but they were genuine in their interest, or at least that is what I am going with.
I walked around, took the required amount of pictures and got back on my bike.
Most of the routes on this trip I pulled from the Vietnam Coracle website. It is amazing. This guy has spent years traveling the country and mapping out the roads and attractions. You can tell this became a passion, then morphed into a real source for information for all travelers to Vietnam, and now this guy was probably a slave to the monster he created. Without it, I would have missed out on so many back roads and been unable to see the real Vietnam. Throughout, by taking these less-traveled paths, I went from just being another American, to 15 minutes later being a celebrity, as the only white person on a motorcycle they had seen in years. I went from getting the middle finger, to high fives.
So, he mentioned that most of the peninsula, past the Lady Buddha statue, is closed, but if you are on a motorbike you can bypass and take some “roads”, exploring the rest of the mountain. After a few roadblocks and rejections I found the trail that led me up the mountain to some radio antenna compound. I pulled in and no one was around, but immediately approached by 5 or 6 friendly dogs. We shared a moment and I turned back to continue on over to another peak of the mountain
It was at this time that they lost affinity for me and began barking and biting my ankles. At first this was comical, as I had motorcycle boots and they could do little harm, but they kept up for a full km and were racing as fast as I could go. I felt like I was back on safari and I was the elephant with a pack of female lions hanging off me. I literally had a dog hanging by my pants. I was able to shake him and the pack loose. I came to a point where car traffic could come up the other side and stop for the view, not able to go where I had come from due to the narrow path. I slowed down, laughing and full of panic as I asked them if they knew of the pack of killer dogs around the corner. These American tourists and their driver did not have a clue as they never gone beyond this point. Ah, such is life beyond the velvet ropes.
I made my way down and towards the Hai Van Pass. If you have not heard of the Hai Van Pass then you are probably not from the UK. You see there is this wildly popular TV show called “Top Gear” that follows the theatrics of a group of Englishmen as they do all things auto-related. One show about 15 years ago, they rode scooters from Saigon to Hanoi. One of the highlights was going over the Hai Van Pass outside Da Nang. Watch Here. After this show aired, this spot became a Mecca of sorts for Brits who love bikes. People talk about it like it is the most beautiful experiences in the world. In truth, it is nice, but there are many other places within the area that are just as beautiful, just have not been covered by a famous TV show. So next time you feel like you have to go to the Greek island of Santorini to get that magical shot, just remember what that shot looks like from behind and know there is probably an equally as beautiful island 5 miles away with no one around
In fact, Da Nang has a perfect example of this. Outside of town is the Golden Bridge. It looks amazing. Of course I would spend $50 to walk across it and get the perfect Instagram pose for my girlfriend.
Then you get there and you see this, and realize its not quite as special as you see on your computer, but at that point you fell for it already and its too late, so you must perpetuate the lie to save face!
Anyway, where were we? Yes, Hai Van Pass. After coming off the peninsula I passed the marina and made my way up the switchbacks to the Pass
As mentioned the pass was nothing special, but just after it the Coracle website mentioned a turn-off where you can get onto some less-traveled roads. I continued down the below route and it slowly got to a point where the sidewalk ended we shall say
There was a farmer in the area. My route said you could follow it but I was skeptical. The guy who I mentioned created this route had done so on a scooter, not a dirtbike, so I could not believed he went too far off-road. I pointed to my bike and to the trail, asking the farmer if I could do it. He made this gesture like, “come on bro', no problem!” So I started up it. By my route I only had to go about 1 km before it should connect with a somewhat modern road, but I immediately was in a dry creek bed bouncing off rocks. This was too early in the trip for serious off-road stuff. My bike and I were still getting to know each other.
The path ahead looked really bad, but I was so close! I got off the bike and did some recon. Looking back towards the bike I realized there was no way I could get up this.
I got back to the bike, flipped it around and worked my way back down the hill. Of course, about 10 meters from the pavement I dumped it. And on top of that I had pinned myself below the bike. I used to laugh at stories of how a guy says he was stuck under his bike for 10 minutes until he wiggled free, but that’s exactly what happened to me. It was more like 30 seconds, but still I was stuck. I seem to always laugh in these situations. I was waiting for that farmer to roll back through and see me, just shake his head and move on.
I eventually got out from under it and spent the next 10 minutes getting it out of the rut it found itself in. I could not start the bike for 20 minutes due to flooding the engine on the spill. I got it going and tried to shift gears and realized I bent the clutch pedal up under the bike
Fortunately I learned my lesson last time I did this in North Thailand, and I had pliers to bend it back into working order. I got back to the main road and saw a young couple on a scooter headed down the road I came from, asking if it was possible. I did my best Vietnamese farmer impersonation and gave a point to the bike and a point to the trail and a thumbs up.
I followed the coast the rest of the way into Hue through the backroads.
I found my lodging along the river, dumped my crap, took a shower, and went out to explore the city.
Hue was actually the capital of Vietnam for 150 years until the French moved in. It also was the site of one of the bloodiest battles in the 2nd Indochina War with America.
I walked along the river towards the main fort
It was a Saturday so all the Vietnamese girls were dressed up, angling each other out for the perfect Instagram pose. I mean you thought Westerners were all about Instagram. This was a whole different level
I did not pay to go into the walled city as it was getting late and I had not eaten since breakfast.
Below is a shot of people renting out rollerblades. All these kids racing around on rollerblades. Felt like 1990 Americana
I walked a few miles and ended up at the town's market. The typical trinkets and trash, but enough to keep me entertained for an hour.
Drank a few beers and sat down for a meal at a small plastic table doing my best Tony Bourdain impersonation
Back to my room to get changed for a proper meal
I ended up on a walking street and at some place called Madam Thu. Before I left the lodging I asked if they get a lot of westerners in Hue. She replied affirmatively. Once I got onto walking street and realized there were only a few hundred in every direction I felt like an idiot for asking. What are all these backpackers doing in Hue? A recurring theme, Vietnam is definitely “discovered”. Time to move onto Laos, as I think it will be the next to fall. Hope I can get there before it’s too late.